Thursday, April 23, 2015
Never! Never would Iran be allowed to have a nuclear weapon. That was the pledge of the Clinton and Bush administrations. Not only that. “Never” was the purpose of 191 nations in agreeing to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. It came into force in 1970 to save the planet from destroying itself and all human life. Hence the near universal agreement, a unique adherence for an arms control measure.
But the story since then is maddening and ominous. One of the parties to the treaty was Iran, and Iran has been in almost continuous noncompliance with the treaty it agreed to.
Flash forward to the Obama administration. Now the president is no longer trying to stop Iran from going nuclear. “Never” has been slimmed down to 13 years – at best! The Iranians have secured enough nuclear fuel to make the first generation bomb small enough to be dropped from a transport plane. The former International Atomic Energy Agency inspector, Olli Heinonen, reckons the proposed agreement from the Lausanne talks leaves Iran “a threshold breakout nuclear state for the next 10 years.” But we may have only the mirage of an agreement since Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his associates are producing tons of ambiguity about what was agreed – and on our side, where unity is essential in dealing with a very slippy adversary, there are troubling discrepancies between the French and U.S. understandings.
Just look at the wriggles and evasions since Lausanne. President Barack Obama said the sanctions would be lifted only after Iran has delivered on its commitments. Supreme Leader Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani draw new red lines. They insist on the immediate removal of sanctions on agreement; they reject monitoring of Iran’s military sites and have the nerve to say its subversion – assistance to “resistance” groups – will continue.
Yet the sanctions that took years to put in place are being removed almost immediately, unlinked to a change in Iran’s behavior. The symmetry is grim: The Iranians walk away from long-standing commitments and the Americans compromise on long-standing demands.
Obama had previously stated that “the deal we’ll accept” with Iran “is that they end their nuclear program” and abide by the U.N. resolutions that have been in place. Yet more enrichment will continue with 5,000 centrifuges per decade and all restraints will end in 15 years.
That is the key. By making a breakout time the central measure by which to judge the effectiveness, the administration has made verification the most important part of the agreement. We must be in a position to show that we can detect what the Iranians are doing and when they are doing it. The IAEA inspectors must have access to declared and undeclared sites. The artificial deadline the administration imposed has had the perverse effect of pressuring Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, and not the Iranian government, to make concessions. On almost every key issue, the Iranians won the day as the Obama administration folded. The entire infrastructure of the Iranian nuclear weapons program remains intact.
Why is Kerry, not Iran, making concessions in nuclear deal negotiations?
There is no way to reconcile Obama’s acceptance of Iran as a threshold nuclear state with a safe fate for Israel. Thus the view overwhelmingly shared by Israelis that he is risking the Jewish state’s future. A deal based on this framework after all would threaten the survival of Israel. Obama has broken with Israel on an existential and unforgivable level. When Obama finally tightened the sanctions forcing Iran to the table, he surrendered, especially on the issue of centrifuges that Iran has developed. Perhaps Obama can afford a bad deal because he has a year and a half left of his presidency. But the people in the Middle East have to live with the consequences of Obama’s agreement with Iran long after he is gone. For that is when the bulk of the nuclear deal with the world powers will be in effect.
Obama deliberately wrote off the inconvenient view of the country that is most endangered, Israel. He accommodated radical Islamist theocrats when he should have insisted on the opposite, that the survival of Israel is non-negotiable. In effect, he betrayed the trust of the Jewish state. And it is not just Israel that opposes Obama’s deal. The Arab leaders, especially our closest friends, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, have made clear they share Israel’s view.
Linda Chavez asks whether any of our allies even trust our word any longer? Why should they when the president failed to live up to promises, for example, to stop Russian aggression in Ukraine, or to keep the murderous Assad regime from killing Syrian civilians. The Iranian deal is more capitulation to those who threaten U.S. national security. Iran will even get an immediate economic boost when we lift sanctions, which will strengthen a regime that is already ascendant as a regional power.
Obama has regularly tried to oversell Americans on this issue. When he became president, Iran had “thousands of centrifuges” which now would be cut down to around 6,000. In fact, according to the New York Post, in 2008 Iran only had 800 centrifuges. It was on Obama’s watch, and because of his perceived weakness, that Iran accelerated its nuclear program. Then, the president asserted that all of Iran’s “paths” to developing a nuclear arsenal would be blocked. Yet, he still acknowledged what is now the common perception that Iran might still be able to build a bomb in just a year.
The president offers false choices between something like this deal and U.S. involvement in another ground war in the Middle East. Why does he not acknowledge the third choice is to force Iran to behave: wider sanctions, diplomatic action and proximity pressures to force Iran to abide by six U.N. resolutions?
In fact, to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons capability, the U.S. must impose the most stringent possible limits on Iran’s ability to produce fissile material. It means permitting Iran only a civilian nuclear power program without enrichment facilities or capabilities. This must be joined with a strict and comprehensive inspection regime underpinned by credible and concrete promises to punish noncompliance. Such a deal must extend as long as the U.S. and its partners believe Iran retains its nuclear weapons ambition, which will threaten its neighbors, and remains the unsettling force in the Middle East.
But none of Iran’s nuclear facilities, including the Fordow center will be closed, as The Washington Post noted. Not one of the country’s 19,000 centrifuges will be dismantled. Tehran’s existing pile of enriched uranium will be “reduced” but not necessarily shipped out of the country. In effect, then, Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will remain intact even though some of it will be mothballed for 10 years. But when the accord lapses the Islamic Republic will instantly become a threshold nuclear state.
Most upsetting is that even with much greater restriction the deal would not be permanent but instead one or more sunset clauses whereby all limits would ultimately be lifted.
Congress fears it has no substantive input, which means a deal would be implemented without its consent. The vote and voice of Congress is vital to the credibility and durability of a final deal that would be acceptable to the U.S. and not just to this administration.
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee understands that breakout time is crucially related to the size of Iran’s stockpile of fissile material. How much of its existing stockpile would Iran be required to ship out of the country? It has reneged on one deal and will try to do it on another if it is allowed to continue its efforts to increase the efficiency of its operating centrifuges. We need prohibitions on such activity, which would also include bans on any and all work on centrifuges other than those currently installed or operated, as well as clear restrictions on when, where, why and how Iran could replace the installed centrifuges.
What would an acceptable deal look like? We need an end to all research and development activity on advanced centrifuges in Iran; a significant decrease in the number of centrifuges that are operational or become operational if Iran breaks the agreement and decides to build a bomb; the closing of the Fordow facility as an enrichment site, even if enrichment is suspended there; an agreement to ship Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium out of the country; a commitment to scale back its nuclear programs significantly for 10 to 15 years and to accept intense international inspections; a willingness to limit enrichment of uranium at its Natanz facility to a level needed only for civilian purposes; to cut back installed centrifuges by about two-thirds, while converting Fordow into a center for peaceful research and foregoing enriching uranium there for at least 15 years; as well as modifying its Arak heavy-water reactor to render it incapable of producing plutonium for a bomb.
Limits on when, where, why and how Iran would replace centrifuges during a breakout time would be crucial to preventing Iran from developing more efficient centrifuges for use immediately after an agreement expires. Iran believes it can continue to use the Fordow underground uranium enrichment plant for developing centrifuges, while the U.S. says no enrichment could take place there for 15 years.
The United States should stand by its original demands to shut down the facility altogether with the purpose of limiting total output of Iran’s enrichment facilities to its current capability. That would prevent it from cutting breakout times with the flip of a switch if it chooses to renege on the deal. The next few months will be nothing less than a supreme test of our skill and our resolve and give the Obama administration the opportunity to manage a fundamental change that improperly handled would threaten American allies and the United States itself.